Zurich Classic Of New Orleans
It was another profitable week for us in Texas with Jimmy Walker bringing us a full e/w return.
At one stage as Walker stood on the 14th tee it looked like he might get in to serious contention as Landry and Mullinax started to look a bit jittery at the head of affairs.
However Jimmy made an ugly bogey 6 on the par 5 14th and that was basically his race run, and in the end with no one else able to really put the pressure on, Landry held his nerve to clinch a well deserved first PGA Tour victory.
Moving on and the tour heads back east to New Orleans for the Zurich Classic.
As I’m sure all of you will be aware this event was re launched in 2017 as a team event with players competing in pairs.
Whilst I can see the attraction of ‘something different’ once a year, purely from a punting point of view it was a real shame to see the bog standard Zurich Classic go.
It had been a good friend to me over the years with a fairly proven formula of the title going to ‘first time winners waiting to happen’, [Dufner & Horschel being two that immediately spring to mind], however instead we are now left with a hard to fathom event with no real pattern to it as yet!
From a world ranking point of view the leading players competing are, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and John Rahm, however there are only three pairs in the line-up featuring two players both in the top 25 of the OWGR. These are Rose & Stenson, Garcia & Cabrera Bello and Watson & Kuchar.
Newly crowned Masters champion Patrick Reed also makes his first start since claiming the Green Jacket and is teaming up with Patrick Cantlay for the second year running.
Going back to the leading ranked players Rahm is pairing up with Wesley Bryan whilst JT and Spieth are renewing from last year their partnerships with Bud Cauley and Ryan Palmer respectively.
TPC Louisiana which is the long standing host for the event is a par 72 measuring just over 7400 yards.
The greens are Bermuda over seeded with Poa Trivialis.
The course is a Pete Dye design so it may well pay to look at players who have performed well on other Pete Dye layouts such as TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town.
The event uses a Fourball and Foursome system on alternate days which will of course be familiar to all players who have played in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
There has been one tweak from last year in that instead of Foursome’s being played on days 1 & 3, and Fourball’s on days 2 & 4, it will this year be Fourball’s on days 1 & 3 and Foursome’s on days 2 & 4.
After the first two days the top 35 teams will make the cut and play the remaining two days.
Perhaps most excitingly there is one other new edition to the format this year in that over the weekend the 35 teams who have made the cut will be introduced on the first tee to the back ground of their chosen song…so prepare to familiarise yourself with some Country classics…Mind you I’m hoping that Jon Curran & Keegan Bradley make the cut as I did once read a piece on Curran who said that if he could have one song to be introduced to it would be Stockholm Syndrome by Muse, so I’m looking forward to hearing that!
Obviously we have very little to go on here!
Last years event was won by Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt on the fourth hole of a play off with Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown.
One thing that does stand out to me from those four players is that the winning pair of Smith & Blixt are both residents of Ponte Vedra Beach and therefore will be very familiar with Dye designs having I’m sure both played Sawgrass on numerous occasions, whilst Kisner came close to winning at Sawgrass and always performs well at Harbour Town.
This therefore adds credence to the Pete Dye link.
The good news is we seem set for a week of sunshine with no storms in the forecast as I write.
The wind does not look to be an issue at all for the first three days however if there could be gusts of 20mph on Sunday if we are to be believe the current forecast.
With such uncertainty around this event I have limited selections this week to three teams as follows;
JUSTIN ROSE & HENRIK STENSON – 9-1 - 2pts Win FINISHED 19th
For my first selection this week I am going with the tried and tested pairing of Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson.
This partnership of course has proved to be a great success over recent Ryder Cup’s and they have a record of 4 wins out of 6 in Fourball & Foursome play since they were first paired together in 2014 at Gleneagles.
On a negative side they paired up for this event last year and understandably were one of the favourites to lift the trophy, however they didn’t ‘show up’ and ended up missing the cut.
This year though I have strong reasons for thinking it will be a different story.
Firstly in relation to Justin Rose when he arrived in New Orleans last year he was making his first start after his agonizing loss at the Masters to Sergio Garcia and as Justin himself readily admitted later in the year it took him a fair while to get over that blow.
There is no doubt in hindsight therefore that he would not have been mentally prepared for this event last year.
In addition I suspect after Augusta last year his golf clubs were probably put away for a couple of weeks and his preparation time on the range more than likely was also limited.
This year of course whilst Rose still does not have a Green Jacket to his name there has been no such heartbreak to get over and with his game having been in great shape leading up to Augusta there is no reason to think he won’t pick up form wise where he left off.
Furthermore, whilst you could still be wary that Justin may have had a break following the Masters and therefore may be rusty any concerns on this front can be dismissed on the basis that Rose is a past winner of this event in it’s previous format, and this win was achieved on his first start after the Masters in 2015.
Moving on to Stenson and it doesn’t take much research to see pretty quickly that his form this time last year compared to this year is like chalk and cheese.
Coming in to the event in 2017 Henrik had missed his previous three cuts and was undoubtedly struggling. This year he arrives at TPC Louisiana on the back of consecutive finishes of 4th, 6th & 5th, with the latter being by far his best ever finish at Augusta.
As I mentioned earlier Rose is a past course winner of the event back in 2015 so we have no worries on that front with Justin.
Henrik on the other hand has not been a frequent visitor to TPC Louisiana over the years, however as a past winner at TPC Sawgrass we do know that he can handle a Pete Dye design more than adequately.
Finally with it being a Ryder Cup year my hunch is that in preparation for their partnership potentially being renewed in Paris later in the Autumn both Rose and Stenson will be a lot more focused on the event than they were last year and will be keen to put down a marker.
I am therefore confident that we will see a very different Justin & Henrik in Louisiana this week than we did this time last year and I can see them making a big push for the trophy.
IAN POULTER & GRAEME MCDOWELL – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/4 odds 1st 5 FINISHED 22nd
When looking through the list of pairings for the event one set of names leaps out from the page as a team you would expect to be really up for the week and that is the pairing of Ian Poulter & GMac.
As we all know since his remarkable turn around in Houston a few weeks back Poults has been on fire and after a week off to re charge the batteries you would think he would turn up in Louisiana raring to go.
Last year Poulter played the event in the company of Geoff Ogilvy and they finished a respectable 32nd however Ian was in no kind of form then compared to this year.
GMac skipped the event last year, however you would think that he will now be relishing the opportunity to tee it up with his old Ryder Cup buddy.
I have scoured the records and I can only find one time where Poults and GMac have paired up together in the Ryder Cup, which was at Valhalla in 2008 and on that occasion they took down the paring of Kenny Perry & Jim Furyk.
Obviously Gmac has been struggling for form of late but there have been some signs this year that the hard work he has been putting in is starting to pay off.
My hope for this week is that he will take some inspiration from Poulter’s recent resurgence and that they will feed of each other.
From a course form point of view Poulter has consistently played well at Pete Dye tracks over the years, particularly Sawgrass, whilst GMac is a former winner at Pete Dye’s Harbour Town.
In a week where there are so many question marks about the pairings on show I am happy to have on side these two veterans of Foursome and Fourball golf.
BEN CRANE & ALEX CEJKA – 200-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED 31st
For my final pairing this week I have plumped for throwing a dart at the team of Ben Crane & Alex Cejka.
There is obviously a huge amount of speculation that goes in to deciding which pairings to run with in an event like this [hence we only have a team of 3 this week!] however my general line of thought is that assuming a partnership is untried, players are more likely to gel well together if they have broadly similar styles of games.
Now there are obviously two potential schools of thought here and I am sure there are those that may think two opposite styles of play may complement each other but I don’t see it like that and here’s my logic why.
Let’s say you put Ryan Moore together with JB Holmes for example. You have one short hitting, fairways and greens player and one wild of the tee, bomber.
So what do you get? Well in foursomes you end up with Moore playing from the rough all the time, which he’s not used to and JB having longer irons in from 150-160 etc, which he’s not used to.
Now of course I’m not saying this theory is an exact science and that big hitters Bubba and JT can’t win with there respective partners Kuch and Cauley this week, but my own preference is to stick with pairings where the players have similar styles of games.
So this leads me back to Crane and Cejka and my somewhat tenuous logic. Well they are both short hitting plodders, they have both played consistently well at Sawgrass over the years so have the requisite Pete Dye credentials, they both actually played reasonably well in this last year in their respective partnerships and whilst Cejka has been struggling of late Crane found some form in Texas at the weekend.
Call it a hunch, [which it basically is!] but I just have a feeling they could go well at a big price this week, and in a week where there is so much speculation involved you may as well go with your hunches!